Bruce Shelley about Age of Empires

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Bruce Shelley (lead designer of AoE)
Telcontar

Telcontar: AoE offers twelve tribes, each of them with unique graphics.

Bruce C. Shelley: Not so. There are four building sets and each is used for three civilizations.

I think this is a very good choice. Twelve tilesets would have been more than people can memorize :-)

Telcontar: Up to now, any multi player strategy game has offered far fewer sides to choose from, which also means less different strategies to learn. Is there not a danger that twelve tribes is actually on overkill, i. e. people may refuse to learn twelve different strategies?

Bruce C. Shelley: We find that people like having 12 choices. The graphics have never been an issue. We think each civilization plays a little differently. Everyone has their favorites and all civilizations have their champions.

I expect interesting discussion about the powers of the different tribes. Warcraft and C&C has shown that not everyone prefers the same tribe. I don't think that all tribes will become popular in multiplayer games, though.

Telcontar: What will you do to introduce the players to all tribes without forcing them to play a bunch of tutorial levels?

Bruce C. Shelley: There are four campaigns of linked scenarios. Each campaign uses a different building set. After playing the campaigns you will have had experience using almost every building. We don't find adjusting to the building types an issue at all.

Telcontar: Are you able to test the game thoroughly enough to make sure that all tribes are equally strong with only about 200 testers?

Bruce C. Shelley: We have been testing in house for over a year, every day. Beta test has dramatically increased the amount of testing. We believe that the civilizations are well balanced now.

Telcontar: Gates would be a great addition to a wall-in. Of course they should only open for friendly units. Will you include them in the game?

Bruce C. Shelley: We do not have gates. They are on our feature list perhaps for the next game in this series.

Telcontar: Microsoft is concerned with the marketing of the game, but not with the production. MS is not known for making great games. Is the fact that the game is produced under the MS label not rather an obstacle than a help?

Bruce C. Shelley: They are the largest producer of software in the world and guarantee that our game will get on the shelves in stores around the world. They have been excellent partners from a technical standpoint and have been patient with us as we missed milestones in order to improve the game. We are very happy to have them as our publisher. We are a new company and needed a strong partner as our publisher.

It happens (too) often that new companies that consist of good engineers cannot establish themselves due to a lack of know-how in commercial subjects like marketing and book-keeping. With Microsoft doing that, Ensemble Studios can concentrate on their games.

Telcontar: In many strategy games, there are only few units that are actually used. Some units may be good at the beginning but no longer needed later. AoE has a huge selection of units that will vary during the course of the game; will new units make old ones entirely obsolete?

Bruce C. Shelley: Certainly improved units of the same type make older units obsolete. For example, all of your existing units may upgrade with new technology. Some older units remain available, however. They may be your only alternative if you run out of gold. For example, cavalry units cost gold. Without gold, you may resume producing chariot units that cost only food and wood. They are not as good as cavalry units, but they may be your only available option for mounted units.

Telcontar: Will there be units that rule the game once they are accessible (like ogre mages in Warcraft)?

Bruce C. Shelley: We have not found any one unit to be dominant. There is very much a rocks breaks scissors cuts paper thing going on. Bowmen are good against Hoplites who are good against cavalry who are good against bowmen. You need a mix of units usually to be effective. Being effective often means getting the right type of unit to attack the right type of enemy unit. Every unit has strengths and weaknesses, which is part of the attraction to the game, we feel.

Telcontar: The overall limit (50 combat units) is quite low. Now I prefer games where you do not have to try not to lose the overview over hundreds of units, but other players may think that this restriction is too strong. Has that unit limit been set according to memory restrictions or to change the gameplay?

Bruce C. Shelley: Generally for memory restrictions and graphics performance. But note that it does not include towers which are excellent defensive units. So you are somewhat limited on offense only. Also, select and delete (key) units that are obsolete or no longer needed (peasants). Also, the truly high cost unit are very powerful but cost enormous resources.

Buildings are unlimited, so the unit limit is higher than in Warcraft with 6+ players.

Telcontar: Will the unit limit perhaps be increased (i. e. the host can set the limit)?

Bruce C. Shelley: There is no limit in the scenario editor, only in random generated games.

Telcontar: have read that you could theoretically win due to a good research even though you have been eradicated by your enemy's host. This is surely not in the intention of the creators but would be a result from such a scoring system.

Bruce C. Shelley: If you are eliminated you lose, although it is possible that you might have a higher score. In a strictly score game, surviving or not means a lot of points. I don't think your question is a big worry.

Sim City players, submit to the War2 veterans :-)

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